Why Jake Christie adores… THE ROCK

1 May

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE…!

Hope you’re enjoying this second season of pieces as much as I’ve dug receiving and reading them! I just love hearing people’s passion for filmed works – and practitioners thereof – that inspire, enrich or just flat-out entertain them. Speaking of which, why don’t you get yourself a drink, pull up a couch and get ready for…

This month’s Adorer is JAKE CHRISTIE, a writer living in Portland, Maine.  A Media Studies graduate from the University of Southern Maine, his work has appeared in such publications as Yankee Pot Roast, Word Riot, 365 Tomorrows, Weirdyear, Points in Case, and FACE Magazine.  In addition to this, he started a film company with some college friends called Tasty Dude Films, specialising in short films and music videos, including the prize-winning short “Tea Party Hijinks” and their music video for Grand Hotel’s “Walken”, featured in Maine’s Dispatch Magazine. Currently working on a first feature based upon a short story he co-wrote, you can find out more about Jake and his writing at http://www.jakechristie.com and http://www.tastydudefilms.com.

The film he’s adoring this week is a 1990s action classic with one of the best casts ever assembled for the genre, and underwent a dialogue polish by no less a screenwriting luminary than Aaron Sorkin! As Connery’s John Mason says: (Ladies and) “Gentlemen, welcome to…”


I am not a very masculine guy. Despite my roots on a rural farm, I’m more comfortable with a pen than a hammer, more skilled with an XboX controller than a BB gun, and more interested in holding a Dostoyevski novel than a football. But somewhere in my caveman x/y-chromosome DNA, I have an aching need to see pistols in both hands and stuff blow up but good, and that’s why I adore THE ROCK.

Michael Bay’s 1996 blockbuster action masterpiece – yeah, I’ll say it – has a pitch so simple you can imagine the dollar signs spinning in the producers’ eyes: a prisoner has to break IN to Alcatraz! Not out, in! With explosions and guns! Throw in some A-list stars, get Hans Zimmer to write the soundtrack, start collecting pyrotechnic experts and you’ve got yourself a picture.

The prisoner breaking back in to the titular penitentiary is a British intelligence agent played by Sean Connery named James Bo– er, John Mason. Mason escaped Alcatraz in the 60s, but he’s spent the intervening decades in the warm embrace of an FBI prison. A group of All-American terrorists led by Ed Harris, who plays the role of General Hummel with such military precision that I will forever recognize the Oscar-nominated actor as “the bad guy from The Rock,” has taken a tour group hostage and is threatening to launch chemical weapons on San Francisco. The United States government needs Mason’s expertise on the prison’s layout in order to get a team of Navy SEALs into “the Rock”, along with overwrought chemical weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed, played by overwrought acting expert Nicholas Cage. Their mission: trade quips, cause incalculable property damage, and stop the bad guys.

Stopping the bad guys means action set pieces, and action set pieces means stuff blowin’ up but good. The Rock is such a quintessential action flick that its action scenes have been parodied and borrowed and turned into cliches, but here they’re utilized to awesome mid-90s effect. A car crashes through a plate glass window. Mano-a-mano boxing breaks out on an island that is seemingly filled with guns. Men run away from an explosion. Men leap away from an explosion. An explosion sends a San Francisco streetcar somehow, inexplicably, straight up into the air. If you stumble across The Rock on television, you know that you’re never more than 10 minutes away from somebody getting shot, stabbed, chased, flung, or exploded.

And while it’s far from an in-depth and scathing indictment of the American prison system, The Rock has a nice anti-authoritative theme running throughout. Ed Harris’ General Hummel launches his nerve gas distribution franchise to force the government into paying reparations to the families of soldiers killed under his command during secret ‘Black Ops.’ FBI director Womack, played with jowly sliminess by John Spencer, locked Mason away without a key and plans to do so again once his mission is complete. If the terrorists can’t be stopped, the “good guys” plan to napalm the island and kill everyone, including the hostages, rather than let their own dirty laundry be aired. Clandestine operations, secret assets, hidden bases, and double-crosses saturate the movie. Government agents and bureaucrats are clearly not to be trusted. Hell, they don’t even have guns!

Many action films are content to focus their attention and budget on the set pieces, letting an unimportant little element like “dialogue” get traded for dry or laughable exposition. THE ROCK, on the other hand, is infinitely quotable. Connery gets to deliver the poster-worthy “Welcome to the Rock,” and lambaste Cage’s lab rat with: “Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.” Much credit goes to Cage, however, for his manic style and his use of words like “gosh” and “a-hole” instead of curses. He has some of the most memorable exchanges, like when he asks a man threatening him with a knife if he likes Elton John, or when he tries to convince his captor that they should work together to disarm the chemical weapons so they don’t end up in “a glass jar or a plastic bag.” In a rare case of moviemaking algebra, the action scenes and the non-action scenes are equally fun to watch.

So THE ROCK has a clever concept, a great script, and some A-list cachet, not to mention gobs of money and some mind-blowing action sequences. So what? Why THE ROCK, when other blockbusters have the same elements? It’s not just because THE ROCK takes all of these things and puts them together effectively, nor is it just because it offers a nostalgic treat for my inner thirteen-year-old. It’s because every element of the movie is so perfect, so fine-tuned, that any replacement would make it a worse movie. Different composer? Not the same movie. Bruce Willis instead of Ed Harris? Not the same movie. Rikers Island instead of Alcatraz? Red smoke instead of green smoke? A BMW instead of a Ferrari? Any change, small or large, would damage the movie. Like a puzzle, everything fits into place so tightly that when you stand back from the complete picture, it’s hard to imagine that it could be put together any other way.

The Rock is pure escapism. It doesn’t say a lot about the human condition, or weave a story the likes of which the world has never seen. It can, however, take a not-too-masculine farmboy to a world where every five minutes a fist pump is prompted and every rough situation can be defused with a quip. And those explosions? They look damn nice.

They blow up but good.

– Jake Christie


Why Martyn Pedler adores… THE IRON GIANT

22 Apr

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE!  Been receiving some brilliant submissions this week, which we’ll have in store for you soon, so please keep ’em coming! Send your love letter to any filmic or televisual objet j’adore to whyiadore@gmail.com!

This week’s Adorer is writer MARTYN PEDLER, who is the comic book columnist for Bookslut, film critic for Triple J magazine, currently in the midst of a Ph.D on superhero stories and screenwriter of the upcoming feature film EXIT. Find his thoughts and reviews at his website or his ever-eloquent and interesting tweets over at Twitter. The film he chooses to adore today marked the feature debut of one of the world’s finest writer/directors of animation, and gave one of the last decade’s most famous action film stars his greatest role… albeit, off-screen…

Jean-Luc Godard said that all you need is a girl and a gun. Most of the time, I’m convinced movies only really require the latter. I love Peckinpah stand-offs and John Woo double-handed slow motion firefights and the early explosions of Michael Bay – and yet one of my all-time favourite films thinks there’s nothing more insulting than being called a gun.

The Iron Giant (1999) was the first feature film for Brad Bird, who’s since gone on to fame as the director of Pixar hits The Incredibles and Ratatouille. It was inspired by the Ted Hughes book The Iron Man, and even lets its hero share the name: Hogarth Hughes. Hogarth’s a nine-year-old boy living through the 1957’s Cold War, sneakily staying up to watch horror movies on TV and playing soldier in the woods near his house. One night, he stumbles across a 100-foot-tall robot from outer space.

The ‘50s-inspired animation, combining hand drawn and CGI art, is gorgeous from the first frame, and there’s plenty of visual slapstick generated by the dissonance of a giant robot and a small town. The movie’s first moment of magic, though, comes after Hogarth leaves the mysterious, mute robot for the first time. In the distance, taller than the trees, we see the Giant tilt his head slightly to one side. It’s immediately curious and compassionate; it’s alive. That’s all it takes.

Hogarth befriends the Giant, hiding it as best he can. The army – in the form of smarmy, paranoid investigator Kent Mansley – is determined to first find proof of the Giant’s existence, and then put a stop to his inevitable rampage. Maybe they’re right. When Hogarth brings the Giant comic books to read, aren’t all the robots in them villains? The Giant, however, wants to be a hero. Just like Superman.

I’m not doing justice to how flat-out funny much of The Iron Giant is, or how it perfectly captures that Spielbergian sense of the wonder and terror of adolescence. Hogarth’s near-psychotic joy when he realises he now has his own giant robot is perfectly played, and the threat of nuclear war is a genuine, palpable threat.

And yet the real risk taken by The Iron Giant is how it refuses to let you enjoy its destructive spectacle. It’s a movie about a boy and his robot, for god’s sake! Who doesn’t want to see the Giant cut loose with high explosives and disintegration rays? But the Giant has already learned about life, death, and friendship – so when he’s forced into unwilling violence, it’s painful to watch.

While all the voice acting is fantastic – from Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Christopher McDonald, and Jennifer Aniston – remember that it’s Vin Diesel who provides the reluctant voice of the Giant. Feel free to point it out whenever someone says he’s never been in a decent film. (Well, this and his cameo in Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, anyway.)

And that’s the point. Stories for children often wear their moral lessons on their well-meaning sleeves, and those lessons often end up transmitting terrible, terrible advice. Be kind? Sure. Be honest? Okay. But ‘be true to yourself’? If we look deep inside, will we find perfect little angel-winged versions of ourselves? I doubt it. We’re humans – not robots, giant or otherwise – and we’re regularly cruel and miserable, self-obsessed and violent. As Joss Whedon once said: “Remember to always be yourself – unless you suck.”

The Iron Giant was originally pitched by Brad Bird with this question: “What if a gun had a soul?” And, in the end, Hogarth answers it. “You are who you choose to be,” he says. “So choose.”

That’s exactly what the Giant does. It doesn’t say much during the film, but I’ll never forget how, hurt and proud in equal measure, it announces: “I am not a gun”.

– Martyn Pedler


Why Simon Van Der Spoel adores… HOT FUZZ

9 Apr

WELCOME BACK to WHY I ADORE!!!

After a lengthy hiatus, we’re back to share the film and television loves of people far and wide, to bring some pop culture positivity back to the internet! And, also… it’s our birthday.

Yesterday was the FIRST ANNIVERSARY of when we launched the site! In the year WHY I ADORE has been running, we’ve had contributors from Australia and England – actors, writers, film critics, filmmakers, a TV host, a literary editor and a film distribution exec have all contributed. Fourteen fond, funny and fabulous Valentines to cinema, TV, actors, filmmakers and shots. And, now…

We want MORE.

To bring an end to all the crazy long layoffs, WHY I ADORE will now be posted in six-part “seasons”. This means we’ll at least get a month and a half of consistent weekly articles, and gives the site a structure it has previously lacked. So, if you’re interested in shouting your love of something, anything, about film and TV from the interwebby rooftops, please write it up (no longer than 1500 words, please) and email it to whyiadore@gmail.com – you can even suggest any pictures and clips you’d like to see added. (See the About page for more info.)

One year and one day ago, we started this site to combat the culture of complete negativity and quick-draw snark that rules the internet, and create a small but defiant corner of the web devoted to why we’re all interested in the audiovisual medium of film in the first place: Love. We all fell at some point. And you know what? We all will again.

So now, sit back in our comfy couch, pour yourself a tall glass of your favourite beverage and enjoy the musings of our next adorer…

SIMON VAN DER SPOEL is a Queensland filmmaker who has been working around the traps of TV newsrooms as a cameraman and as an independent filmmaker for nearly a decade. His first film, the WWII aircraft documentary SPITFIRE GUARDIANS, was screened on Foxtel’s History Channel, and he’s currently writing and developing the independent SAS action feature REDEEMED. You can find out more about Simon’s career at his blog, right here. So, what does an action film loving director like Simon adore… well, if you run out and get him a Cornetto, he might tell you…

 

I had to think long and hard about what to write about for the esteemed Why I Adore forum, and though such things as The Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Princess Bride or Hercules Returns spring from my childhood, a film that I absolutely adore today is Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

From the opening titles with the screaming Bobbie police whistle, it rises in crescendo and cycles through the eras of police sirens to the modern Bill car siren and grabs your attention. No: it screams for your attention. In real life, everyone looks up when a cop car whizzes past full lights and sirens, right? (Trust me: they do where I work!)

But why this film? Because I can watch it a million times over and not be bored with it, I still laugh at the jokes and I adore screening it to unsuspecting friends who haven’t seen it, with giddy delight.

I feed from their reaction. In fact if anyone utters “I’ve never seen Hot Fuzz” I respond in a Nick Frost accent “you aint never seen ‘Ott Fuzz” like he does in his reference to Bad Boys II, and open my DVD collection to pull out the tin case in all its special edition glory. In fact, I’ve collected a group of friends and family that respond to anyone saying ‘Fer the greater good’ in complete unison (No, that’s a lie… I just wish I did).

The introduction of Simon Pegg’s character Nicholas Angel is delivered in fast paced cuts, flash frames, snap zooms, a superimposed mix of speed-ramped energy to make an editor cry, all with the narrator listing his bevy of skills, showing the man is a policing god who sees the world in right and wrong, black and white (His name is Angel, and his police number is 777).

Pegg is masterful in his deadpan delivery whilst surrounded by comedic insanity; it just sets up the tone for the film, a testament to the comedic strength of the script, characters, direction and camera work. It sucks me in every time, and the parade of cameos like Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan, and Bill Nighy in the beginning are heralding the coming feast of talent further on.

There is a massive number of characters in the film, played by numerous cameos; Hell, I even saw Cate Blanchett in there, perhaps because I’m Aussie and can recognise her voice and her eyes (because that’s all you get to pick her by, and yes, I fell in love with them as much as Peter Jackson did in LOTR). The Head of the NWA is Edward Woodward, who played Breaker Morant, and they’ve got one of my favourite 007’s, Timothy Dalton! (He even said that he had more fun filming Hot Fuzz than 007!)

If you’ve ever grown up in a small town, the performances you inherently recognise and identify within your own community members, so that you can’t mix them up, all bound by Simon Pegg’s straight-laced character. If at any point they made him as silly as the people surrounding him, the film would fall apart, but as the hero, he is the one you back, the one you want to win, you actually care about him. (Script writing 101!) But the script is magic, it’s so quick, the jokes fast, subtle, dryly ironic and scathing, back and forth like a fencer.

A masterful script, one which does very well at gaining sympathy for the hero by relegating this talented cop to the country. The lightning speed of his journey into exile is just genius, the lowering bars of reception on his phone as he goes further and further into obscurity is priceless. As I’ve got family out west, I’ve experienced modern life trickling away as the bars fade!

As I’ve said, the way it’s been cut, it’s a camera operator/editor’s wet dream of technical skill, snap zooms, flash frames, whip pans, forced perspective and just an orgasm of guns, colour, speed and comedy.  It’s precisely why I adore it, the sharp script, the “in” jokes (there’s even a nod to Croc Dundee’s way of catching crims) – THE WHOLE FILM IS AN HOMAGE TO ACTION FILMS! The one-liners and the ironic awareness of its need for one-liners are some of my favourite parts of the film.

Like any good cop, Nicholas Angel follows the right way of approaching crime, thorough investigation and logic, but of course – like any good action film – violence is the only way of bringing the crims to justice. A glorious, bullet chewing, muzzle flashing, ricochet whining, joyful barrage of justice.

Of course, at no point does anyone ask, “where did all the guns come from?” The farmer just ‘found em’ and that’s all anyone cares about, they’re just there: an arsenal of kickass weaponry that are celebrated in a riot of racking, loading, clicking, pumping, sheathing, zipping and slamming. It places Bad Boys II and Point Break on a pedestal, then proceeds to outstrip the lot of them the only way the Brits know how, with class. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have been comedic partners for many years, so this buddy cop movie was begging to be made with them, and they do it so well.

Now my idea of a perfect Sunday is watching Hot Fuzz…and if Edgar Wright is unable to make a sequel, well I’ll raise my hand… because I know where the guns came from! The heathens of Beauford Abbey…maybe? Every farmer and his mum are packing in the country. However, I reckon his response will be “pfffffttt… jog on.”

But I adore his film anyway.

– Simon Van Der Spoel


NEXT WEEK: What does screenwriter and critic Martyn Pedler adore?? Find out, right here, at whyiadore.wordpress.com!

Why Jess Lomas adores… A MOM FOR CHRISTMAS

24 Dec

Season’s Greetings from WHY I ADORE…!!!

Loving all the Christmas trees, tinsel, coloured lights and glistening presents surrounding us at the moment, but what we love most of all at WHY I ADORE… HQ is the feeling of goodwill and love to one’s fellow peeps. ‘Cause, y’know, that’s what we’re all about here at Love and Adoration Central. So I wish all our readers a massively Merry Christmas, Happy Festive Season and a stupidly kick-ass/arse New Year!!!

And on the jingle of Christmas bells rides in our latest Adorer is JESS LOMAS, editor of books, reviewer of movies (on her blog, for Quickflix and for WatchOutFor) and purveyor of popular culture! The object of her adoration is largely ignored and kind of obscure — qualities I always love to see — and, befitting the season, ultra-Christmassy. So, sit back, pour some wine or eggnog, break a Christmas Cracker/Bon-Bon and put on your paper crown as Jess gives us…

 

I promised Paul back in July that I would write something for Why I Adore … then the Melbourne International Film Festival happened, then I attempted to write my entry, changing films every few weeks until here we are – the week of Christmas. So it only seems fitting to spread some Christmas cheer and share a classic (yes, classic!) Christmas film from the golden age of cinema – the 1990s. In full disclosure, A Mom for Christmas was a TV movie but it’s still 100% certified awesome!

The 90s were a special time for me; leggings with matching pattern jumpers, hiking boots, scrunch socks, floppy hats with giant flowers sewn onto them – needless to say, I was one spiffy kid! There are many films from this time I remember fondly but there was always one film that, come December, my sister and I would hope one of the networks would play – A Mom for Christmas.

I’ve long since given up on commercial TV to come through with the goods at Christmas. This year you can “enjoy” Shrek the Halls or The Santa Clause 1, 2 and 3, along with the token playing of another favourite, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Perhaps I am remembering through rose coloured glasses but, back when I was growing up (and now I feel old for saying that), you would have a plethora of holiday classics on offer. Luckily I have my very own copy of A Mom for Christmas to play whenever I feel the need for some Christmas cheer.

When 11-year-old Jessica receives a free wish, she gets what she asks for–a mom for Christmas! Beautiful Amy (Olivia Newton-John) shows up at her door bringing life and laughter back into Jessica’s family. The trouble is Amy isn’t real and can only stay until Christmas Eve. But now that Amy has brought new meaning in their lives, Jessica and her dad don’t want to lose her. You’ll love this Christmas wish come true.

What the official synopsis doesn’t tell you is that Olivia Newton-John plays a department store mannequin who is magically brought to life by Philomena (Doris Roberts) to grant Jessica’s wish. Yes, a mannequin, which means for the entire film Olivia Newton-John exhibits her fine acting skills attempting to portray a woman who is really a mannequin … cue repeat use of the “crazy eyes”.

Clearly this is as cheap and tacky as holiday movies come, but if you’re the sort of film lover who embraces the occasional serving of cheese this has to be in your pile of movies to watch these holidays. It has everything needed for a truly “dramatic” film; a young girl grows up without a mother, has a workaholic father (aren’t they always), is unpopular with the other kids because she’s “weird” and wishes for a mannequin to come to life to be her mum (mom) – wild antics and adventures ensue.

There’s probably some psychological reason why I hold this film so dear to my heart, but I find it more hilarious than heart-warming which eases my perhaps unstable mind.

Not only is Amy magically transformed from a mannequin to a human but she seems to possess some magic of her own, as she brings to life other inanimate objects including Wilson, a mannequin chauffeur from the store. Amy also teaches Jessica about the “evil” mannequins, those without any faces … yeah I wouldn’t trust them either! Fortunately, faceless mannequins can’t be brought to life! See aren’t you learning some interesting stuff!

All sorts of “crazy” things happen in the film: the family Christmas tree catches on fire and Amy, being a former mannequin, pours her eggnog on the flames causing half the room to ignite – hilarious! The department store Santa mannequin, temporarily brought to life also, gets hit by a car – nothing says Christmas like Saint Nick getting mowed down. Amy turns out to be a Kleptomaniac, having been caught stealing from the department store where she scored a job. Amy and Jessica’s dad even have a holiday romance that finishes in a heart-wrenching climax where he discovers she’s a mannequin and doesn’t seem to care! True love wins in the end and Amy leaves her life in the department store to join their family – this is some freaky family entertainment! Even the way Amy is summoned back to the store when her time as a human is up used to frighten / delight me as a child (skip to 5.52).

Obviously, having watched this as a kid, I can appreciate that many (okay, most) adults won’t watch this film or, if they do, they won’t enjoy it. But it’s a delightful mix of nostalgia and classic Christmas cheese that keeps bringing me back. Sure, It’s a Wonderful Life is a true Christmas classic, and will be more widely received by your family on Christmas night, but with enough Christmas “spirit” (i.e. alcohol), A Mom for Christmas will remind you what Christmas is really about… Mannequins learning to love.

– Jess Lomas

Why Guy Davis adores… DEEP RISING

17 Dec

Hello and welcome back to the plush surrounds of WHY I ADORE, where no movie love is too arcane, ridiculous or predictable – all are welcome here! I absolutely love it when someone adores something that isn’t roundly championed, or acclaimed, or, well, even thought of by most people. See, I have a theory that every single film ever made – well, okay, say, 95% of films ever made – is somebody’s favourite movie. Further to this, I believe that, yes, every feature film ever made is adored by someone.  So why am I going on about this?

Because today, is the day for such a film.

This week’s Adorer is writer, film critic and screenwriter GUY DAVIS, who writes reviews for The Geelong Advertiser and Street Press Australia, contributes the pop culture column “Trailer Trash” to Inpress, and whose blog of reviews, interviews and amusements can be found here, at Remorse Code. One can also follow his witty bon mots on Twitter as @tommyfivetone. But now, sit back, relax, grab a drink and hold on tight, as Guy’s adoration takes you far, far beneath the sea… or, as the poster says…



A large percentage of my life has been spent attempting to convince people I’m not as shallow and superficial as I appear. It’s a full-time job, but I like to believe I’ve got most of you suckers fooled into thinking I’m an erudite kind of chap whose lips don’t move when he’s reading one of the many books he owns. Yes, owns.

What’s more, I’ve assiduously cultivated the persona of film buff, the kind of guy willing to throw down large chunks of his hard-earned for selections from both the Criterion Collection and the Blue Underground catalogue. (For the uninitiated, Blue Underground is the Criterion Collection of ‘giallo’ thrillers, spaghetti westerns and gruesome European horror movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s. If that kind of thing blows your hair back, I highly recommend you check out their range of titles.)

So when I was thinking about my submission to ‘Why I Adore’, it prompted an unprecedented amount of soul-searching. After all, ‘adore’ isn’t a term to be tossed about lightly.

When I think about the works of cinema that have won a place in my heart and mind, it results in a complex swirl of thoughts and emotions. For instance, Michael Winterbottom is a filmmaker whose work I appreciate more than anything else. For all the intense pleasure the likes of Seven Samurai, Ikiru and High and Low have given me, I mainly look upon the films of Akira Kurosawa with a great sense of admiration. I really like what Darren Aronofsky’s done so far; I really love what Wes Anderson has done so far.

And… I adore Deep Rising. Yeah, you heard me. I freakin’ adore it.

This 1998 tale of raffish soldiers of fortune, ruthless hijackers and Lovecraftian sea monsters was never going to win any Oscars, although you could convincingly argue that any special-effects department that comes up with a gag listed in the credits as ‘Half-Digested Billy’ sure as shit should be thanking the Academy. But in my own court of public opinion, where I am judge, jury and executioner, it’s a clean-sweep winner of every award going.

Why is that? Well, personally speaking, it ticks every box on my list when it comes to cinematic comfort food.

Is our hero a wisecracking ne’er do well in the Han Solo tradition, a man with a shadowy past and dubious reputation who will nevertheless cowboy up and do the right thing when danger rears its ugly tentacles? (By the way, Tentacles was the working title of the movie! And David Duchovny was slated as the lead! The more you know!) Yes, indeed – as played by Treat Williams, highly enjoyable and thoroughly convincing as a dude who’ll both shun hard work in favour of computer poker and take on a cadre of hard-case mercenaries armed only with a spear-gun and a smile, John Finnegan is alternately charmingly roguish and roguishly charming.

Are the villains able to nimbly navigate storyline territory that requires them to be swaggering, dangerous, suspicious and scared shitless by turns? Thanks to some astute casting that fills this rogues’ gallery with some damn fine actors, absolutely. Of course, some are clearly there for their brawn than anything else, such as the late Trevor Goddard (whose loose-cannon menace as Australian merc T. Ray makes up for his deficiencies as an actor). But the likes of Djimon Hounsou, Jason Flemyng and the always-ace Cliff Curtis add just enough texture and dimension to their portrayals to make their characters more than walking fish-food. And as the leader of the pack, Wes Studi (so memorable as Magua in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans) is a sharp-dressed sociopath sharp enough to join forces with Finnegan when the shit goes down.

Is the comic relief a motor-mouthed douchebag you’d happily see dragged to the briny depths and devoured whole by a massive marine monster? In the case of Kevin J. O’Connor’s Pantucci, Finnegan’s “grease monkey” mechanic…uh, not totally. Sure, Pantucci rubs a lot of the other characters the wrong way with his lack of bravado under pressure (“Can you just get asthma?” he asks after one particularly tense encounter) and annoying habit of humming ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, but for some reason Finnegan puts up with him and therefore we should be able to as well. Thanks to O’Connor’s nicely-calibrated overacting – he doesn’t so much chew the scenery as gnaw at it occasionally – it’s not too much of a chore.

And is the female lead a beautiful, butt-kicking babe who manages to look fetching in both haute couture and a grubby wife-beater? (No small ask, by the way.) Of course she is, and props to Famke Janssen for imbuing her character – a sneaky, slinky jewel thief and con artist with the wonderfully Bond-girl name of Trillian St James – with smarts and savvy that probably wasn’t on the page. The role’s not Ripley-esque, that’s for sure, but Janssen (who has had shamefully few opportunities to show what a forceful and compelling actor she can be – she’s terrific in X-Men: The Last Stand and Jon Favreau’s Made) gets what Deep Rising is going for in terms of its tone and acts accordingly.

That tone is the secret of Deep Rising’s success, for mine. The movie is gloriously and gratuitously gory, but never in a way that feels nasty. It also lodges its tongue so squarely in its cheek at times that it’s in danger of breaking the skin, but it also knows when to pull back and…well, perhaps not get serious but certainly ease up on the jokes. And while the effects are pretty solid, still holding up more than a decade after its release (one or two dodgy matte shots not withstanding), it’s very much a B-picture at heart, a monster-mash romp that aims for – and achieves – a neat balance of thrills and chills. (Not to mention the odd “Ewwww!”)

So what’s the story? The gang of hijackers led by Studi’s Hanover hire the clapped-out boat crewed by Finnegan and his two-person team (Pantucci and feisty jill-of-all-trades Leila, played by Una Damon) to transport them to a mysterious destination (“Middle of nowhere squared” in Finnegan’s words). Along the way, the nosy Pantucci discovers the gang’s cargo includes several high-powered torpedoes, and it’s revealed that they’re planning on pulling an armed robbery at sea by raiding the Argonautica, a luxurious passenger liner making its maiden voyage.

When they board the ship, however, they discover they’re not the first ones to raid it. A voracious sea monster has arisen from the deep – hence the title, duh – and is using its many long, scaly tentacles to chow down on all and sundry. As the gang’s inside man on the ship, played by the ever-smarmy Anthony Heald (you may remember him as Dr Chilton from The Silence of the Lambs), declares: “They drink you alive, sucking all the fluids out of the body before excreting the skeletal remains.”

Dude.


So from there it’s the old story of good guys and bad guys being forced to work together if they’re gonna make it out of this one alive, which of course most of them will not. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but then again it doesn’t need to because the wheel works pretty damn well as it stands. And while writer-director Stephen Sommers may have enjoyed greater box-office success with The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (as well as earned a place on my shitlist for taking a can’t-miss concept like Van Helsing and, quite frankly, screwing the pooch), I still believe Deep Rising marks his finest hour.

By the way, that fits in nicely with my theory that a few such journeyman filmmakers such as Sommers have at least one bona fide B-grade classic to their credit. For example, Ron Underwood had a big hit with City Slickers but he reached his peak with the tremendous Tremors. Joseph Ruben’s Sleeping With the Enemy did well at the box-office but Dreamscape was a far better film. (Even Pauline Kael thought so – she compared it to The Manchurian Candidate!) And Chuck Russell has helmed blah blockbusters like Eraser and The Mask but he also did a marvellous job with his 1988 remake of The Blob. Oh, and in answer to your question: yes, I have spent far too long thinking about this.

So, yeah, I adore Deep Rising. I adore the old-school score by Alan Silvestri. I adore the way the sea monster is so enormous, it has little fish swimming around in the fluid in its eyeball. I adore how Trillian starts insulting Pantucci within five seconds of meeting him. I adore Williams seizing his shot at action-hero status with such verve and panache (he really is an underrated and incredibly versatile performer). I adore the greeting that Djimon Hounsou receives when he opens the ship’s safe. And I adore the final scene of the film, which I’m gonna discuss now so look away lest you gaze upon the dreaded SPOILERS…

Having dispatched the sea beast by blowing up the Argonautica, Finnegan, Trillian and Pantucci find themselves washed ashore on an uncharted tropical island. All seems well until they hear a mighty roar, and the camera pulls back to reveal something huge and hostile crashing through the jungle towards them. The last line of the film? Finnegan’s catchphrase: a world-weary “Now what?”

Well, in my mind, an equally well-made and enjoyable sequel. Make it happen, huh, Hollywood?

– Guy Davis


Why Kate McCurdy adores… MIKE LEIGH

10 Dec

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE…!!! Yes, we’re doing our very best to bring you another object of cinematic/televisual adoration every single week! So pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass and enjoy the show…

This week’s adorer is KATE MCCURDY, marketing manager for independent film distribution firm SHARMILL FILMS, who have been providing Australian cinemas with personalised distribution of connoisseur films for over four decades (you can follow them on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sharmillfilms). Kate hasn’t been there nearly that long, but her fine taste in films serves her well both there and here, as she pays due tribute today to an auteur who counts as both cinematic AND televisual, a man who, in a deceptively sparse filmography (only 11 features in 40 years, but over 20 television movies and specials during that time) has helped to singlehandedly define a very British style of social realist filmmaking…


Mike Leigh is my favourite filmmaker of all time. He is one of Britain’s — if not the world’s — greatest living filmmakers, and a genius in the true sense of the word. Often unjustly labelled misogynist, miserabilist, cruel, depressing and patronising, to me, these words couldn’t be further from the truth. I am not here to defend him to his harsh critics – of whom there are many – because his extraordinary continuing body of work does this perfectly well. While trying to avoid labels myself, I adore Mike Leigh because his characters and films are based on a foundation of unerring desire to explore the human condition and why people behave the way they do. Leigh does this with an open-minded curiosity, frequently with understanding and affection, and always without judgement.

I first saw SECRETS AND LIES around the time it was released on VHS; I was about 12. I remember being struck by the power of the telephone scene between Cynthia and Hortense, particularly how Brenda Blethyn was able to convey Cynthia’s confusion and horror in this life-changing moment for both of them. The scene that follows some time later at their first meeting in the diner, with Hortense and Cynthia side by side, a take that lasts for over 9 minutes, is one of the most incredible scenes of emotion captured on film:

Cynthia: But sweetheart, I can’t be your mother, can I?
Hortense: Why not?
Cynthia: Well… look at me!

Frequent Mike Leigh collaborator Timothy Spall gives one of the greatest performances of his career in SECRETS AND LIES, (including the now iconic line which has been given The Simpsons treatment!) and his portrayal of Maurice is so warm and comforting, as he strives to hide the pain of having to hold his fractured family together.
One of my favourite aspects of the film is the montage of the huge cast of characters as they pose in Maurice’s professional photography studio. If you look closely almost all of these people, featured for only seconds at a time, have appeared or will appear in Leigh’s films. I especially love seeing one of Britain’s great comic actors and Leigh’s former partner, Alison Steadman as she fervently combs the fur of her dog to hide its flea collar, the legendary Liz Smith looking radiant as she poses with her cat, and Ruth Sheen who can’t stop giggling! Also keep an eye out for Peter Wight and Phil Davis who have appeared in five and six of Leigh’s films respectively.

In 2005, I wrote my honours thesis on Leigh’s films entitled ‘Familiar Interiors’, which was intended to be a play on words as the action in Leigh’s films often takes place in kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms, and that the films are always about families. Even in films such as NAKED and CAREER GIRLS, which have themes of emancipation, the characters still have strong feelings about families and how their personalities have been shaped by their parents. In addition to these strong familial themes, the ensemble casts that Leigh brings together for each film have also become a family of their own over the years. It is incredible to see how many actors will come back and work with him time and time again, reinventing themselves as the roles require. Indeed, Lesley Manville is Leigh’s most frequent collaborator with seven films under their collective belt (including 2011 release ANOTHER YEAR), and I am always floored by her ability to transform herself with each new role.

The themes of the familiar and familial runs even deeper than this. I have a real sense of feeling ‘at home’ when I watch one of his films. These are real people, albeit presented in a heightened realism, but I know them. This is an intrinsic part of the way Leigh works. I won’t go into the whole complex and fascinating Leigh filmmaking method here, suffice to say that he asks the actors to base their characters on people they know. One character may be based on many different people, possibly someone the actor is friends with, met briefly years before, or even spied on a bus. A character such as Katrin Cartlidge’s magnificent creation of Hannah (“it’s pronounced Hannaah actually”) in CAREER GIRLS is a glorious example of a mishmash of idiosyncrasies, from talking through her right hand when she’s nervous to her brilliant witticisms veiling her vulnerability. This film is a wonderful example of different aspects of human behaviour coming together to create characters, particularly as Hannah and her friend Annie are shown at two important stages in their lives: university students and then thirty-somethings, still trying to work out who they are. These two (almost four) characters have been pieced together from a multitude of observations of others, as well the actors’ own memories and experiences. In turn, these are characters and circumstances that I can relate to strongly, particularly the student lifestyle and also recommencing a friendship after a long time apart. The first scenes in Hannah’s apartment where the awkward silences are punctuated with small talk are uncomfortable to watch, as they are so painfully familiar.

I have a very close relationship with my little sister (22 months between us) and the explorations of sibling relationships in Mike Leigh’s films are particularly interesting to me, especially those in MEANTIME, between brothers Mark (Phil Daniels) and Colin (Tim Roth), and twin sisters Natalie (Claire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks) in LIFE IS SWEET. The last critical scenes between both pairs are some of the most moving and beautiful I have seen on screen, as well as being uplifting and hopeful despite the circumstances. In both cases, Leigh shows without sentimentality that families who love and care for each other, particularly siblings, can achieve a solidarity with which they can take on the world.

Leigh took an interesting turn after LIFE IS SWEET, giving David Thewlis the greatest gift a director can give an actor, by casting him as Johnny in NAKED.

The first time I watched NAKED, I was alone at night and I was not prepared for the onslaught of the opening scene, let alone what was to follow. Johnny is an enigma, and as such, I have a different experience every time I see this film. The scene with Johnny and the night security guard (Peter Wight) is always longer than I remember, because it covers so much ground so quickly, as they debate the existence of God and the possibility of past and future lives. It is frenetic and powerful as we witness the shattering of dreams. Exhausting to watch, yet, at the same time, it is mesmerising and extraordinarily funny (see the ‘Maggie!’ scene). Thewlis developed his own theories for Johnny based on meticulous reading of texts such as Nietzsche, Nostradamus and the Bible and was able to recite all of Johnny’s grand theories from memory. The power of this film to me is akin to standing next to a subwoofer with the bass reverberating through your body.

NAKED is one of my top ten films of all time and, at the same time as presenting a bleak post-Thatcher London, it is just as funny and poignant as Leigh’s other films such as HIGH HOPES and HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. It is also, for me,’ easier’ to watch than Leigh’s first two films, BLEAK MOMENTS and HARD LABOUR, the latter being the one I have the most difficulty with. Liz Smith in HARD LABOUR plays one of the saddest characters I have ever seen on screen and, despite the abysmal ways that her character is treated by her family (particularly her husband) and her employers, when she confesses to her insensitive priest that she ‘doesn’t love people enough’, it is heart-wrenching. Unlike most of his films, this is not a film about hope but simply getting on with things, as it ends with Smith’s character performing the never-ending act of housework.

BLEAK MOMENTS does live up to its title in some places, but is also at times hilariously funny during the severely drawn-out awkward silences of people who can’t bring themselves to say what they feel. Anne Raitt gives a haunting performance as Sylvia, in Mike Leigh’s first feature film described by Roger Ebert as ‘a masterpiece, plain and simple’.

There are simply too many films to go into a blog entry, and I do feel as if I need to give all of the films equal space to do them justice. Indeed, just like his film, I feel like I should be taking an ALL OR NOTHING approach! I really wanted to convey how much I adore Mike Leigh’s characters and the real worlds in which they live. I feel as if I could bump into them down the street, and often do in a sense, as the characters are always kaleidoscopes of real people. The integrity and humanity of Leigh’s characters cannot be underestimated and reveal more and more with each viewing. Probably the most common behavioural trend that recurs in his films – and most likely a reflection of the man himself – is that the more likeable characters use humour to get by, while the unlikeable and tragic characters do not, or are unable to, laugh at themselves. Humour is the strongest aspect of Leigh’s work. There can be no tragedy without humour, and being able to laugh in spite of it all is a true measure of resilience.

Mike Leigh is one-of-a-kind and I can only hope that he will continue making films I adore for a long time to come.

– Kate McCurdy


Why Rich Haridy adores… IRREVERSIBLE

3 Dec

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE!!!

It’s been a while, I know, but your favourite haven from internet cynicism and snark has returned for summer (and, life permitting, beyond)! I’ve gotten such a wonderful response from the folks who have visited here since we kicked off in April, and your enthusiasm and willingness to celebrate what you love about film and television is the engine that powers me to keep the site alive and, for that, I thank you!

Speaking of the site, I hope you enjoy the new surrounds; I’m trying out a new theme that’s a little more bold, attractive and (hopefully) easier to read. But enough about us — this is all about the adoration, so grab a beverage, pull up your favourite chair, sit back and behold…

This week’s Adorer is Rich Haridy, known to film buffs and Twitterati alike as Rich On Film, which is his terrific website chock-full of film reviews, opinion pieces and ace videos from around the interwebs. Today, Rich will lay down his love for one of the more controversial, hard-hitting motion pictures of the last decade — but helpfully, has written it forwards, rather than backwards…


< BEWARE: SPOILERS WITHIN! >

IRREVERSIBLE is not only my favourite film from the last decade, but it is one of the most amazingly transcendent cinematic experiences I have ever had and I completely adore Gaspar Noe for creating it.

Great cinema for me is cinema that makes me feel something. It’s cinema that disturbs me, excites me, disorientates me. It burrows into the backwoods of my mind and takes up permanent residence. Days, weeks, months, or even sometimes years later, it still sits there and makes itself known anytime someone mentions its title. IRREVERSIBLE changed me on a cellular level. I had never been so physically affected by a film before. The blunt force of the formal elements in this film hit me very hard. This wasn’t a feeling of anger or mere offence, but rather the totality of the experience that this film offered me was unprecedented.

Over the following years I occasionally returned to the film and as the initial power of the experience wore off so grew my fascination with how this film actually worked. IRREVERSIBLE was solely responsible for forming the basis of my honours thesis. Gaspar Noe had really created something amazing. For me, he had thrust cinema into the 21st century. He was appropriating experimental and avant garde techniques into a narrative feature all with the goal of creating a visceral experience in the viewer. Strobing the screen, spinning the camera, droning the soundtrack, pulsing the frame, Noe utilises every trick in the book to get the audience to feel something. More than simply telling a story, he uses sound and image to literally alter his audience’s psychological state.  Hypnotically trance-inducing techniques are thrown to the fore in IRREVERSIBLE. Stylistic devices with no narrative function are prominently displayed in such a brave way.

Now all this in and of itself isn’t what makes IRREVERSIBLE a great film. Sure, it’s provocative stuff, but it’s not merely a superficial formal exercise. Noe uses these formal elements in IRREVERSIBLE with sharp precision for a reason. Much like MEMENTO, the other big reverse chronology film from the last decade, IRREVERSIBLE uses audacious formal devices to service and enhance its narrative and thematic concerns.

Noe’s use of reverse chronology in his film is much more accomplished than it initially appears. The most obvious function of this device is to strip scenarios of any motivational understanding. The violence we are subjected to at the beginning of the film is unexplained, and as brutal as it can be. Nothing could justify this vicious act. Of course, the residual trauma of this event carries into the rape sequence that comes later. We have ample time during this sequence to reconsider our reactions to the earlier violence. At least, we would, if Noe didn’t offer us a reverse twist by revealing that the man killed at the beginning actually wasn’t even the perpetrator of this rape.

This leaves a moral question hanging in the audience’s mind. If our first impression of the violent murder was that it was wrong, and we changed our minds once we found out about the vicious rape and beating this man had given, then we are ultimately even more confused when it is revealed that the wrong man was murdered. This is a simple affectual function that results from the reverse chronology but it greatly contributes to the discomfort many feel in watching the film. IRREVERSIBLE has been described as moral, immoral and amoral by various critics because of this technique.

Another quick detail worth mentioning is Noe’s sickly humorous jokes placed throughout the film that play upon the idea of premonition and determinism. In the second half of the film, as we review events prior to the violence to come, we observe many characters alluding to events they are yet to experience. We get two conversations about violent sex and the desirability of it, one even includes Vincent Cassell prophetically saying to Belucci that he wants to “fuck your ass”. It is presented as playful banter between lovers, but we know what is in Belucci’s future and the lightness of the moment is profoundly corrupted. It’s not only a sick joke on Noe’s part, but also one of the many nods he makes to the philosophical school of hard determinism.

In fact, the whole final act of the film is a remarkable achievement. Noe climaxes his film with one of the most beautiful love scenes I have ever seen. The sequence with Cassell and Belucci wandering around their apartment, playing music, and simply being in love is as powerful as anything Noe has shown us. It is in these moments that the trauma of the earlier sequences pay off. The violence and rape we had previously experienced needed to be as strong as it was in order to reverberate through to these closing sequences. The emotional complexity that we, the audience, feel as we balance the physical trauma from earlier in the film with these later scenes of abject beauty is where IRREVERSIBLE begins to soar as a total experience.

Noe then reveals his ultimate gut-punch, that Belucci was pregnant, and culminates his film with the most gorgeous 5 minutes of cinema I have ever seen.

Time destroys everything indeed. A nihilistic philosophy? Maybe. But never has a philosophical precept been so well conveyed experientially as Noe does with IRREVERSIBLE (the other film in recent memory that works in similar ways is Jim Jarmusch’s BROKEN FLOWERS. Jarmusch uses repetition and cycles in his film to experientially convey the Zen themes underlying his film, but that is a whole other essay). In many ways, I consider Noe to be a spiritual successor to Stanley Kubrick (Noe’s own personal obsession with Kubrick cannot go unnoticed and his most recent film, ENTER THE VOID, has been compared to 2001 frequently). They are both filmmakers who have a fascination with pushing the technological limits of film and they are unafraid to polarise their audience for the sake of a reaction (see FULL METAL JACKET for Kubrick’s most powerful attempt at alienating his audience).

Never has violence been so pungently powerful and beauty been so radiantly glowing. IRREVERSIBLE achieves such a powerful polarity of extremes that it single-handedly set the bar for what can be described as visceral. Noe understands the physical affect of sound and image better than any filmmaker working today. His latest film ENTER THE VOID takes this obsession to a new level again and maintains Noe’s standing as one of the most important filmmakers working today.

Yep, I adore IRREVERSIBLE. It is a summation of everything I want from cinema. It is not an easy film to watch but it is a remarkable achievement that perfectly fuses form and content into a total experience that leaves you changed as a result. If only more films used the tools of cinema to make audiences feel.

P.S: I also adore Gaspar Noe’s wicked handlebar moustache. Keeping the dream alive!

– Richard Haridy